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HC quashes Home dept order on recovery of compensation to accident victim’s kin from police driver

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Srinagar: The High Court on Monday quashed an order by the Home department to recover the compensation amount from the driver of a J&K Police bus involved in a road accident in which a woman was killed in 2009.

Justice Sanjay Dhar while quashing the recovery of compensation order against the driver Ali Mohammad Dar said no enquiry has been conducted with regard to alleged negligence by the driver before incorporating the condition with regard to recovery of compensation amount from him.

“Thus, respondents (authorities) have observed the principles of natural justice as well as provisions of Rule 346 of the J&K Police Rules, in breach in this case,” he said adding the impugned condition, therefore, is not sustainable in law.

The facts emerging from the pleadings are that on 12th of September 2009, Dar was driving a police bus in which a police party of District Police Lines, Srinagar, was proceeding from Central Jail, Srinagar.

On reaching near Kathi Darwaza, Srinagar, a mine blast took place due to which Dar “lost control over the vehicle” and a pedestrian Mst Khatija, was run over by the vehicle resulting in her on-spot death.

The legal heirs and dependents of the deceased filed a claim petition before Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Srinagar, seeking compensation. The claim petition was filed against the Government of Jammu and Kashmir through its Home Secretary and Director General of Police being the owners of the offending vehicle.

The Tribunal after trial of the case came to the conclusion that “Ali Mohammad Dar was driving the offending bus in a rash and negligent manner without any police escort”.

Accordingly, the Tribunal, finding the respondents in the claim petition vicariously liable for the acts of petitioner, awarded a sum of Rs 6,45,928 along with interest @6% per annum in favor of the claimants and against the respondents therein.

While according sanction to the drawl of amount of Rs 7,91000 for satisfying the claim, the respondent authority ordered that the amount be recovered from the erring driver of the vehicle.

The petitioner driver through his lawyer pleaded in the court that the order has been passed without observing the principles of natural justice and without considering any other material on record.

The lawyer said the accident was caused not because of the negligence of the petitioner but because of the mine blast.

The court observed “merely because the Claims Tribunal while deciding claim petition has come to the conclusion that there has been lack of care on the part of petitioner does not lead to a conclusion that the petitioner was solely responsible for the accident.”

It is a settled law that the proceedings before a Claims Tribunal are in the nature of an enquiry and the standard of proof is of a lesser degree than even in proceedings of civil nature, it said.

It also said that merely because the Claims Tribunal has awarded compensation against the respondents does not lead to a conclusion that the petitioner has been negligent to an extent that he has to be held responsible for payment of compensation to the claimants.

Merely because the Tribunal has awarded compensation in favor of the claimants does not mean that driver of the offending vehicle has to reimburse the same to his owner, particularly when no such direction has been passed by the Tribunal against the petitioner, observed the court.

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